The Geography of Health: Where You Live Affects Mortality Rate

Certain parts of the country are more prone to certain causes of death, so choose your lifestyle carefully.

Living in the right neighborhood means more than just a good school and a safe, crime-free area. As one recent study proved, it can actually have a huge influence on just how many years of life you have left.

A team of researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Seattle, collected death registration data (courtesy of the National Vital Statistics System) in order to determine the annual county-level mortality rates. They looked at 21 of the most common causes of death to determine which counties in the country had higher incidences of certain types of death.

More than 80 million deaths were logged in the U.S. between 1980 and 2014. The researchers analyzed the data from 3,110 counties around the country. They found that certain parts of the country were more prone to certain causes of death.

For example, chronic respiratory disease was the primary cause of death in western West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. People living along the southern half of the Mississippi River had some of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease-related deaths. The mortality rates from interpersonal violence and self-harm were highest in southwestern counties.

Mortality rates in both halves of the U.S. are also surprisingly disparate. Counties in western states had a much lower cardiovascular disease-related mortality than average, while Southern counties and those living in Appalachia had higher mortality rates than average.

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The interesting thing about this study is that it helps to pinpoint the primary causes of death around the country. Local government health organizations can benefit from this data. By understanding what the primary cause of death in their county is, they can take steps to educate residents in order to make better, healthier choices and lower mortality rates.

The sad truth is that a lot of the deaths were fully preventable. A staggering number of cases of cardiovascular disease-related deaths could be avoided simply by people taking steps to eat right, move more, and avoid lifestyle habits that increase the risk of obesity. County and state governments should understand that it’s their responsibility to educate their citizens on ways to live healthier. A few simple changes in diet and lifestyle could drastically reduce mortality rates even in the states and counties where they are highest.


1. “US County-Level Trends in Mortality Rates for Major Causes of Death“, 1980-2014, Christopher J. L. Murray, MD, DPhi et al., JAMA, doi:10.1001/jama.2016.13645, published 13 December 2016.